(MTN News-HELENA) Many of us drive over the Canyon Ferry Dam to go to the lake, but have you ever wondered how it works and how much energy it produces?

The Facility Operations Specialist, Ryan Madsen, showed MTN News the dam and explained the history.

The Canyon Ferry Dam sits at an elevation of 3,800 feet and was built in 1949.

Water from Canyon Ferry Lake feeds into the dam on the Missouri River to create energy for the Western Area Power Authority.

Story continues below

“Power is put out onto the grid from the switch yard on top of the power plant and from there depending on where power is needed it’s directed.
So if it needs to go to Helena it’ll go to Helena if it needs to go to Great Falls it’ll go to Great Falls,” said Madsen.

The three generating units on the first floor produce 50 mega watts of power.

“The three units we have here could produce enough energy to light up the city of Helena,” said Madsen.

A lot goes into creating energy at this dam, and each floor has a different purpose of creating energy.

One floor below the three generating units are shafts spinning at 150 revolutions per minute.

It’s the floor below, where water flows against a bucket which then causes this shaft to spin.

“What it does is it spins that and goes up to the unit up above,” said Madsen.

The dam also has a penstock, which holds and controls water to send it then to the Helena Valley.

“It goes up that pipe and through a tunnel out to the valley where the farmers and ranchers use it,” said Madsen.

Looking on the outside of the dam it’s often hard to tell what you’re looking at, but most of it is where the energy is stored.

“There’re a hundred and fifty bolts in those lines,” said Madsen.

Not only is the purpose of this dam to create energy, but also to prevent flooding from this reservoir to Helena and the Great Falls area.


Reporter: Sara Stinson